TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #3

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

Richard Wallace Annand VC (1914-2004)

I’m writing this on the day BBC TV are showing a service remembering the victory over Japan that brought an end to the Second World War. During the war, massive acts of heroism were shown by young men who were rightly awarded for their courage and bravery. Some hailed from the North East and in this post we focus on one young man from South Shields. This is his story.

I was born in South Shields, North East England on 5th November 1914. My father was Lieutenant-Commander Wallace Annand of the Royal Naval Division, he was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. My mother was called Dora and I was their only child. After leaving school and working in a bank, I joined the Tyne Division of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve. They promoted me to Sub-Lieutenant and I completed both, navigation and gunnery course.

When the war came I was a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion DLI and we headed off to battle. On May 12th 1940, the company set up headquarters south of Paris. Three companies moved down into the valley with A on the right, B in the centre and D defending a road bridge on the left. C Company was sent to watch for any movement. There was a rumour that the Germans were hiding in the woods, so C Company withdrew and blew the bridge. This halted any German advance long enough to withdraw across the river.

The next morning, with the enemy on the opposite bank, the assault began with heavy mortar fire hitting D Company’s position beside the ruined bridge. I led two counter-attacks – I was wounded on the second.

The Germans crossed the river over-running a platoon of B Company. After desperate fighting we were unable to push the enemy back across the river and our position was raked with fire. A further attack was inevitable and, shortly after dark under cover of intense fire, the enemy again struck D Company’s position. Armed with grenades, I again went forward, inflicting significant casualties.

We were holding on, but elsewhere the Germans broke through, so a withdrawal was ordered. I realized Private Joseph Hunter was missing so I went back and found him wounded. I was bringing him back in a wheelbarrow and making good progress until my path was blocked by a fallen tree. I was feeling very weak because I’d lost a lot of blood, so didn’t have the strength to lift Hunter over the tree. I decided to leave him and set off for help. That was a hard decision. Soon after I collapsed but fortunately taken to safety and evacuated.

For his rescue attempt and courageous actions, Annand was presented with the Victoria Cross on 3rd September 1940. The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was also made of Freeman of his hometown, South Shields.

Annand served in Britain for the rest of the conflict and much of his service involved training young soldiers, members of the Home Guard and commandos. Plus a spell at the War Office. As a result of permanent damage to his hearing, he was invalided out in 1948 with the rank of captain.

Annand worked at a training centre for disabled people, near Durham, and for the next 30 years devoted his life to helping disabled people. He maintained close links with his regiment, and was president of the Durham Branch of the Light Infantry Association until 1998.

Richard Annand passed away on Christmas Eve 2004, and was cremated at Durham City Crematorium. In 2007 a bronze statue of Richard was unveiled in South Shields Town Hall and in 2018 relatives from around the UK, Canada and Cyprus came together to see the memorial to their ancestor, which stands on the grand staircase of the Town Hall.

His medals including the VC, 1939-45 Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45,  and Army Emergency Reserve Decoration and Bar.

They were originally held on loan by the Durham Light Infantry, before in 2010 they were purchased privately by Michael Ashcroft and are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London.

Gary Alikivi   August 2020

Sources: Ancestry, Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria Cross

 

TYNESIDE WAR HEROES #1

THE DAY I WAS AWARDED THE VICTORIA CROSS

Adam Herbert Wakenshaw (1914–1942)

 

In 2012 when researching a documentary about the impact of the Second World War on South Tyneside residents, I found a number of Tyneside men who served in the British Army who were awarded one of the highest awards, the Victoria Cross. The VC is the highest and most prestigious award for courage in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. One of those men was Adam Wakenshaw, a private in the 9th Battalion of the Durham Light Infantry. This is his story.

I was born on 9th June 1914 in Duke Street, Newcastle. Life was really hard. My ma’ Mary, and Thomas my da’ had to feed six children. They struggled on his labourers wage so to help the family I left school at 14 to work at the local colliery. When I got married it was to Dorothy Douglass in 1932 and our first place was 19 Rye Hill. Not far from Newcastle Central Station. When the War started I left the pit and joined the Durham Light Infantry. In 1940 I was one of the lucky ones to leave Dunkirk.

It was in 1942 we were battling against the Germans at Mersa Matruh on the coast at Egypt. They were coming at us hard. The ground was heavy and rocky we couldn’t dig in – so we hid behind boulders. We had around nine tank guns with us.

 I saw a vehicle it was in close range so fired and made a direct hit. It stopped them dead. The Germans fired back, and blew my left arm off, right above the elbow. They also hit my gun aimer, Eric Mohn, seriously wounding him. The whole crew were injured or killed. The Germans came back in to finish us off.

So me and Eric managed to crawl back to the gun and load the shells. We fired five more rounds and one direct hit which damaged their gun. They fired again I was threw away from the blast but it killed Eric. I managed to drag myself over the rocky ground to the gun and loaded up again.

Sadly, a direct hit killed Adam instantly. That evening, Durham soldiers searched the battlefield. Among the wreckage of his gun, they found Wakenshaw, and buried him where he fell.

He was later re-buried in El Alamein War Cemetery, Egypt and posthumously awarded the VC. The medal was presented to his widow, Dorothy, and passed through the family to his daughter, Lilian. The medal was then donated to the Durham Light Infantry Museum.

Today in St Mary’s Church, Newcastle, where Adam was baptised and married, there is a stained glassed window commemorating his life and sacrifice, from his upbringing in Newcastle to his death in North Africa. Also included is the motto of the Durham Light Infantry 9th Battalion ‘Be faithful until death and I will give a crown of life’.

Gary Alikivi  August 2020.

Sources: Ancestry, DLI South Shields, London Gazette 8th September 1942, The Comprehensive Guide to the Victoria & George Cross, Imperial War Museum.

 

 

HUMANITY & COURAGE – South Shields Historian & Photographer Amy Flagg (1893–1965)

 

The previous post was a snapshot of the life of Victorian photographer Frank Meadow Sutcliffe. Another photographer featured on the blog is South Shields Historian Amy Flagg (links below).

This post highlights the photograph’s Amy produced during the Second World War. She took some of the most devastating images of South Shields in the 20th century. When the bombs dropped she captured the scars with her camera.

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Page from inside the pamphlet.

When researching a documentary about Amy (Westoe Rose, 2016) I came across detailed records that she had made of German air raids that revealed the amount of suffering the town endured. The Ministry of Information and the Chief Press Officer gave permission to produce Humanity & Courage, pamphlets featuring some photographs that Flagg had taken of war damage to her town.

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Detailed record of air raids over South Shields.

More images are available on the South Tyneside Library website

https://southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Included here is a picture story from The Shields Gazette showing her friend and Librarian Rose Mary Farrell standing next to a display of Amy’s photographs. They were shown in an exhibition at South Shields Library. The report is dated August 1968, three years after Amy died.

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Links to previous Amy Flagg posts:

https://garyalikivi.com/2018/07/19/westoe-rose-making-the-documentary-about-historian-and-photographer-amy-flagg/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/07/11/westoe-rose-the-story-of-amy-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/21/history-lives-amy-c-flagg-south-shields-historian-photographer-1893-1965/

https://garyalikivi.com/2019/12/28/amy-flagg-holborn-the-mill-dam-valley/

Gary Alikivi  March 2020

 

HARD UP in HOLBORN – South Shields photographer James Henry Cleet 1876-1959.

During the 1930’s James Cleet was commissioned by South Shields Public Health Department to make a photographic record of ‘slum housing’ in the town. Side Photographic Gallery in Newcastle produced a booklet in 1979 of some of the photo’s. Not sure if the term ‘slum’ was first used by Side Gallery or Public Health Department ?

But first time I came across James Cleet when I was doing some family and history research in the Local History section of South Tyneside Library. It gave me the idea to make a documentary in 2010 called ‘The Hills of Holborn’, featuring the area once known as the industrial heartland of Shields, Cleet’s work and the digitization project. The Local History section had been awarded funding to digitize thousands of photographs they had in their archive and load them onto a new website. Volunteers were needed for this process and as I was self employed I could give a couple of hours a week to a worthwhile cause.

Spending time looking through photographs, some from the early 1900’s, of people, places and events around South Tyneside was a great way to spend a couple of hours. It wasn’t long till I dropped in more frequently. Photographs by Emmett, Flagg and Cleet were an excellent record of the times. Some images had familiar street names of area’s where my ancestors lived, mainly Tyne Dock, Holborn and Jarrow. Finding a family of photographers called Downey who had a studio in Eldon Street next to where my great grandmother lived was an added bonus.

There was a small team of volunteers who recorded details of the images, scanned the photo’s, and uploaded them onto the website, this process features in the documentary. Street names, buildings, shops and people were researched, as much information as possible was added. On the back of the pictures was nearly always a date or name of the photographer. But unfortunately, some photographs were left blank and didn’t have any recognizable signs, but were still uploaded.

After a few sessions I could recognize the styles of certain photographers and two of them stood out. Amy Flagg added extensive details to a lot of her work, and covered some powerful subjects like the Second World War – climbing over bombed houses to get the shot won’t have been easy. Some of her images became instantly recognisable, in her darkroom she stamped a date in Roman numerals on the bottom of the photo.

There were a load of photographs that were taken in Holborn by James Cleet, his style and composition was of a very high quality with clean, sharp images. Most of the images are taken on overcast, grey rainy days – is that a coincidence ? I doubt it. The lighting give the pictures a uniform look and add to the bleak, grim atmosphere of the housing clearance. In research I found he had regular work at ship launches, plus The Shields Gazette and Daily Mirror. While Flagg’s technique was more hand held, Cleet used a tripod in most if not all of his shot’s. Both were passionate about their work.

Around that time an old guy used to come to the local history section and tell me a few stories about Tyne Dock and Holborn as his family lived in those area’s. Next time he brought in a booklet which he gave to me, it featured a collection of the housing clearance photographs I’d been looking at.

The booklet also included reports by the South Shields Medical Officer for Health talking about ‘rat repression’ and ‘eradication of bed bugs’. They reported….’The women had a very hard life. They polished their steps and the pavement was scrubbed. The backyard was washed regular. There was a question of pride. They had to keep them clean or they’d be overrun with vermin. No getting away with it. It had to be kept down’. The report also included complaints from residents…’A’ve seen some hard up times. Families of nine in one room. I knew a family, the father and mother had to gan ootside to do their business. Yes they used to do their courtin’ ootside. The mother used to stand at the telegraph pole on Johnsons Hill and have her love with the husband and then gan yem to bed. You couldn’t do nowt with all the family livin’ in one room’.

In a previous post I wrote about the important historical archive that Amy Flagg had left to the town: her Second World War photo’s plus the book ‘The History of Shipbuilding in South Shields’, the James Cleet housing clearance booklet is just as important a document of South Shields.

To check out the South Tyneside photographs featuring Amy Flagg and James Cleet go to :   https://www.southtynesidehistory.co.uk/

Gary Alikivi   December 2019.